Last night, the Senate rejected Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) amendment to the $59 billion supplemental spending bill asking for the completion of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border within a year. Before the vote took place, DeMint attempted to persuade his colleagues to vote for his amendment by comparing the influx of undocumented immigrants to the deadly oil spill that is currently poisoning the Gulf of Mexico:
If any member of the Senate stood up today and said that we should not seal the oil leak in the Gulf until we have a comprehensive plan to clean it up, we would all say that that is absurd. Certainly we need to seal that leak as quickly as possible to minimize the cleanup later. But that is exactly the kind of logic that the President and my Democratic colleagues are using when it comes to immigration. They are insisting that we will not secure our borders until Republicans agree to a comprehensive plan with some form of amnesty and road to citizenship for those who have come here illegally.
Other than the fact that DeMint is offensively equating undocumented immigrants with a toxic environmental catastrophe, his insulting analogy doesn’t stand. Contrary to what Republicans might claim, there is not a constant, gushing flow of undocumented immigrants crossing the border every single second of the day. The Pew Hispanic Research Center found that immigration from Mexico to the U.S. slowed at least 40 percent between mid-decade and 2008, largely due to the economic recession and enhanced border enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security meanwhile documented that “the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States declined from 11.8 million in January 2007 to 11.6 million in January 2008.”
DeMint also attempted to emphasize the toxicity of illegal immigration, justifying building a fence by citing the Mexican drug war. However, studies have shown that much of the violence that DeMint points to has remained isolated to the Mexican side of the border. FBI statistics show that crime is declining in U.S. border towns across through the U.S., including Tucson, Arizona; Chula Vista, California; and Laredo, Texas. Meanwhile, when Tim Wadsworth, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, studied U.S. cities with more than 50,000 people he found that “the cities that experience the greatest growth in immigration were the same one that were experiencing the greatest declines in violent crime.”
U.S. government investigators have indicated that it will cost taxpayers $6.5 billion over the next 20 years to maintain the fencing already in place and the Congressional Research Service estimated in 2007 that building and maintaining a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border would add up to $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence. The Associated Press reported today that “there’s no shortage of ways to get past the fence” and that “it’s unclear whether the fence cuts the overall number of illegal crossings.”
DeMint has introduced similar failed amendments to the financial reform bill and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) $42.9 billion appropriations bill. His most recent effort was the fourth Republican border security amendment to be voted down in the past 24 hours. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) was the only Republican who opposed it.